Rudolph Giuliani, America’s mayor turned Trump’s sloppy fixer, squinted into the autumnal sun at journalists who had assembled outside Four Seasons Total Landscaping — a choice of location that multiple Trump staffers could not account for, saying that it was the work of the campaign’s Pennsylvania advance team. Literally anywhere else would have conveyed more legitimacy on the enterprise, but legitimacy did not seem a high priority for one of the last battles of a lost war.
“Joe Frazier is still voting here — kind of hard, since he died five years ago,” Giuliani said in a meandering monologue, referring to the champion boxer who died in 2011 as an example of Philadelphia’s unproven election malfeasance. “But Joe continues to vote. If I recall correctly, Joe was a Republican. So maybe I shouldn’t complain. But we should go see if Joe is voting Republican or Democrat now, from the grave. Also Will Smith’s father has voted here twice since he died. I don’t know how he votes, because his vote is secret. In Philadelphia, they keep the votes of dead people secret.”
Where to begin?
Or rather: Where to end?
As Joe Biden marched slowly to victory last week, the Trump Train jackknifed. It raged about suspicious Sharpies in Arizona, about “irregularities” and “anomalies” in Georgia, about weaponized pizza boxes used to obscure democracy in Michigan, about “mathematical impossibilities” in Wisconsin, about ghosts in Philadelphia. What became clear is that Trump supporters thought Democratic votes, Democratic strongholds and Democratic methods were suspicious. Cities were suspicious. The turnout was suspicious. The mail was suspicious.
In reality, a preponderance of mailed-in ballots — which were counted last, in many places — had slowed the process and delayed the inevitability of Biden’s win. Poll workers were just trying to do their civic duty — extracting, flattening, scanning and counting ballots into the night — but this was not good enough for the president’s supporters. They showed up with instructions tailored to whatever way the tide was shifting.
“Stop! The! Count!” they chanted Wednesday afternoon outside the TCF Center in Detroit.
“Count! The! Votes!” they chanted Wednesday night outside the Maricopa County Elections Department in Phoenix.
“A lot of shenanigans,” Trump said from the White House briefing room Thursday.
Indeed. Top Trump lieutenants deployed to various cities in navy windbreakers with their names embroidered. The campaign set up a fraud hotline, which was eventually swamped with prank calls. They sent out desperate fundraising pleas for its legal defense fund. On his podcast, Steve Bannon, Trump’s former adviser, called for the beheading of Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases.
Veterans of the “Brooks Brothers riot,” when preppy supporters of George W. Bush rallied at a recount center in Miami during the interminable 2000 election, got the band back together.
Trump surrogate Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, was one of those “rioters” two long decades ago. Last week he jetted to Las Vegas to look into allegations that GOP observers were unable to look at ballots and diagnosed the country as a “banana republic.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who was part of the Florida fight as a 29-year-old, appeared on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News to implant more conspiracy theories in the American mind. “I’m more than a little frustrated that every time they close the doors and shut out the lights, they always find more Democratic votes,” Cruz told Hannity, inaccurately describing the vote-counting process, which occurred with the lights on and in the presence of Republican observers.
Outside the Clark County Election Center in Las Vegas, a news conference was interrupted by a hysterical man in a sleeveless tank that read “BEER BBQ FREEDOM.”
“The Biden crime family is stealing this election!” he screamed over and over again, as if repetition would make it true.
In Philadelphia, a demilitarized zone formed early Friday afternoon at Arch and 12th streets near the convention center, where ballot counting continued. To the south was a large, jubilant street party, in front of historic Reading Terminal Market. To the north were agitated Trump supporters engaging in magical thinking.
On Friday, as the counting continued in the convention center, Biden fans held an impromptu street party on one side of a nearby intersection while Trump supporters seethed on the other side.
New Jersey resident Edward X. Young wore a button that said “Barron 2052,” referring to the president’s 14-year-old son. “I will never accept Joe Biden,” said Young, a horror-movie actor whose titles include “Maggots,” “Mold!” and “Gerry the Psychopath.”
Biden “is a senile gangster with the IQ of a sack of carrots,” he said.
That evening, a federal judge heard arguments from attorneys who wanted to stop the counting in Nevada’s Clark County because Republicans could not conduct “meaningful observation.” The judge wondered how to interpret the phrase. How many people should observe, and from what distance? Should observers be entitled to hear a ballot-counter’s every utterance? What if one of the poll workers had a soft voice and could not be overheard?
“At what point does this get to the ridiculous?” Judge Andrew P. Gordon asked.
His question was answered the following day, at Four Seasons Total Landscaping.
Sean Middleton, the company’s director of sales, was at a Bible study when he got the call to come to the shop and help prepare for Giuliani’s news conference.
“I was pretty happy because it got me out of Bible study,” he said Saturday, adding: “I have no idea why [the campaign] wanted to do it here. I don’t know how the government works. Maybe they saw on satellite images that we have a big back lot and proximity to [Interstate] 95?”
Middleton said he was not aware of any connection between the landscaping company and the Trump campaign, which did not immediately provide an explanation for why the news conference was held at that location.
Giuliani stood in the landscaping company’s dusty parking lot with campaign adviser Corey Lewandowski, in front of a garage door plastered with Trump placards, flanked by a few disgruntled GOP poll observers, facing a gaggle of journalists. He claimed there was fraud; he also said GOP observers were prevented from witnessing fraud. About 30 minutes into his show, Giuliani was informed that the race had been called for Biden on television. He stretched out his arms, looked to the heavens and seemed to mock-crucify himself on the notion.
“Come on, don’t be ridiculous,” Giuliani said. “Networks don’t get to decide elections. Courts do.”
The president had promised many lawyers, and now Giuliani promised many lawsuits, some “big” and some “small.”
“We are leaving all legal options open,” Trump legal adviser Jenna Ellis said in an email Saturday, which she sent from an airplane flying back from a “Stop the Steal” rally in Wisconsin. Asked to describe the emotions of this moment, as Trump World teetered on the brink, Ellis said she was “disgusted” by Biden.
Lewandowski, when reached by phone after the Giuliani news conference, answered more flatly. “I have no emotions,” Lewandowski said. “I’m like a robot. I literally have no emotions.”
“Stop the Steal” rallies popped up all over the country over the weekend, including at the Supreme Court on Saturday afternoon.
In Washington, Always-Trumpers who planned to encircle the Capitol were awash in positive emotions, despite heckles from people passing by.
The president is “going to get that miracle that he needs because God will not let this nation fall into chaos,” said Bethesda resident Karen Simon, carrying a huge Trump flag.
“Go home! The game is over!” someone yelled at the group.
“What pathetic losers,” said another.
But the marchers had faith that God and Trump would prevail. And so, as in the Book of Joshua, they began their seven laps in pursuit of victory.
One. A marcher said the “Hail Mary” over and over again.
Two. A group of young men spoke of “malnourished socialists” and the Carter-Baker Commission on election reform.
Three. They were joined by a small group carrying a tapestry of Jesus Christ.
Four. There was talk of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and a pardon that was sure to come, and a truth that would finally be revealed.
Five. Across the river in Virginia, a crowd gathered outside Trump’s golf club. One sign said “You’re fired.”
Six. A stream of Biden supporters, on their way to a massive block party by the White House, doubled over in laughter at the marchers.
Seven. Victory was indeed coming, but not for Trump.
Heller reported from Philadelphia. Robert Klemko in Philadelphia contributed to this report.